Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday slowdown

What an amazing two weeks! The Holy Spirit sure had a message for me and for others, too!

Thank you Lord, for the opportunity to study and to see ourselves as You please help us to change and become more like You.

We'll give all the glory and honor to You!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Spring cleaning our lives, conclusion

We mentioned yesterday that our Father will not load us down with more than we can stand....the Spirit will show us the sins that we need to repent of, a little at a time. If He shined a light on everything, we might despair of having fellowship with our holy God!

Another thing that helps us as we venture out in prayer, and ask Him to show us things that need cleaning, is the knowledge that God is already aware of our faults and our flaws. He already knows our failings. AND HE STILL LOVES US!!!! Our flaws and our epic fails come as no surprise to Him, because He understands human weakness. And yet, in spite of everything, He still loves us, and accepts us as His children, and cherishes us!
As a father has compassion on his children,    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed,    he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)
A third thing that can encourage us as we seek to clean up our lives, is that no matter what we find in our hearts, we know it's forgiven. We're covered. There is no possibility of discovering something that would cause God to withdraw His affection for us, or to revoke our salvation, or to go back on His promises!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
Blessed is the one    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2)
All of our sins, past, present, and future, have been paid for in the death of Jesus Christ. We don't have to try to hide them from God or from ourselves. Talk about a sense of freedom!
So, let's not try to hide or to deceive ourselves, when we hear from the Spirit, either through the scriptures, or a book, or another believer's gentle admonition. Of course, we will try.... to deceive ourselves, that is. We can't trust our hearts to tell us the truth, because inwardly, we always put ourselves in the best possible light. (Grin) We are not the most impartial judges of our own motives and conduct!
Just like we can be walking around in our home, in the midst of clutter and not notice it, so we need God's help to see the spring cleaning that is needed in our own spiritual lives. You see, with His help, we will be able to see ourselves as He sees us.   I'm sure that all of us have been in the situation of getting ready for a visit from relatives or friends, and suddenly seeing that the windows need cleaning, the rugs and furniture are covered with dog fur, and the garage has shrunk from a two-car to a one-car, simply because so much "stuff" is piled inside it!
Close your eyes, pardner!
It was much more pleasant before when we didn't really "see" all that stuff, and we could do other things that were more fun..... instead of cleaning windows, vacuuming furniture, and organizing the garage!
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)
Uh oh.
Talk about hitting the nail on the head..... those verses from James sure do that.
When the Holy Spirit holds up the mirror of God's Word and shows us how God sees us, what do we do? Close our Bible? Walk out of church and forget that God showed us something important?
Yep, I have been there, done that, and even bought the T-shirt.
Haven't we all?
It's easier.
More pleasant.
Not as hard as the work of changing what needs to be changed in our lives.
But that person doing the hard work is the person who will be blessed.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Will you join me in spring cleaning today?

Let's decide in our hearts that we will seek to rid our lives of anything that hinders us from following Christ our Lord. Let's remember that it's God Who shows us what needs changing, and that same Almighty God will provide us with His power as we try to change.

His grace is sufficient!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to spring clean our lives

Last time, we mentioned that the process of our spiritual lives getting "clogged up" and messy is a gradual one. Sometimes it is even imperceptible....we don't see it. In fact, other peeps might see it before we do!

A wise old man named Solomon observed this, and here is what he said:
I went past the field of a sluggard,    past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere,    the ground was covered with weeds,    and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed    and learned a lesson from what I saw:  A little sleep, a little slumber,    a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a thief    and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34)
So, a lack of caring will result in decay.  Not paying attention to the things that need daily work can cause major problems. It's not just true in the agricultural world..... it doesn't only have to do with vineyards! It's also true in our spiritual lives. A field doesn't fill up with weeds overnight (although I could swear that the flower borders in my yard can do just that!). A stone wall doesn't suddenly fall over and spill rocks everywhere. Decay is gradual.
Here's the recipe: all it takes is time, combined with a bit of neglect, a spoonful of complacency, and a cupful of I'm-too-busy-to-deal-with-that. Then, before we realize it, our spiritual life is full of the thorns that Solomon saw.... and our fellowship with God is not what it used to be. Oh, but the real danger is that by the time we awake, we may not care as much anymore.

Are we sensing that this is starting to happen in our lives? It may have been going on for a while. Ah, but there is good news! This process of decay, of debris building up and clogging up the effective relationship with God, is reversible! By His grace and power, we can change. How? With some spiritual spring cleaning: stopping to examine the quality of our walk with Him, and listening to His Word, then responding in obedience to what He says needs to change.....

Yes, we can! We can clean out the muck and mire, so that our fellowship with God and with other believers will be free and unobstructed -- we can enjoy the abundant life that Christ intends for us.

The first step in spring cleaning a home is to gather up the tools, right? Dust cloths, sprays, cleaners, mops, and brooms.... what tools do we need for a spiritual spring cleaning?  I believe the three most important tools are the Holy Spirit, other believers, and prayer.
Let me explain: God has given us the Holy Spirit for this very purpose -- to teach us, to enlighten us, and if necessary, to convict us of our sin. The Spirit can open our eyes to the debris in our lives; He can shine a light on the dust bunnies of sins and bad attitudes, so that we can see what needs cleaning. 
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: (John 16:7-8)
Search me, God, and know my heart;    test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me,    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
Hey, that's not something we routinely have on our prayer request list, is it? (Grin) Asking God to reveal our sin is a little scary, no? "Please shine a light on any gunk and garbage in my life, Lord." That's a wee bit intimidating!
Facing our sin is something our natural self wants to avoid.... we don't intentionally seek it out. Maybe that is a major part of our problem!

We mentioned that other believers can be another spring cleaning tool.... Oy vey. When God sends someone to speak to us about our sin (whether it's a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a pastor) what is our response? Do we clap our hands over our ears and hum the tune to Jeopardy?
Do we refuse to listen to the correction, no matter how tactfully and gently it is offered? Oh, we can change the subject; we can get defensive; we can flail at the messenger. If none of those work, we can deny the sin. Or rationalize it.
Finally, if we are still unable to repent, we can rename the sin so that it seems less sinful. Let's call it something pleasant, OK? Greed can be called "thriftiness." Gossip can be called "just sharing my concerns." Gluttony can be renamed "a healthy appetite." How about pride? Oh, that's a "good self-esteem." And what we are doing when we rename all these, which is lying, can be renamed "stretching the truth," or "white lies."

Follow me? (And don't think that my toes are immune from this....I'm learning as we go, too!)
Here's the point: we have to be willing for God to show us our sin. Whether it's the Holy Spirit convicting us when we read the Word, or whether it's a believer that points out our need for cleansing, we need to be ready to respond with repentance and prayer.

I think something that truly helps with this is the knowledge that God is a gentle, compassionate Father. He won't give us more than we can bear. He won't load us down with so much conviction that it crushes us.....He won't reveal so much ugliness that we are overwhelmed. Instead, He lovingly shows us enough that we repent -- not too much, lest we despair.
 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."  (John 16:12-13)
Jesus knew that if He dumped everything on His disciples at once, they might be overwhelmed and filled with despair. He gave them as much as they could comprehend.....and He does the same with us. Little by little, He reveals our sin and our need for repentance -- but with compassion, He only shows us as much as He knows we can deal with.

We'll finish our study tomorrow. Hope our toes have not been mashed too badly, and we'll all be here!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Verses that inspire us

As I lie here, trying to do what the doctors have instructed (and that is truly difficult, because they said be still) I have found some verses that have inspired me and given me comfort, too.

I know that there are others who pause here to study with us that are working through health issues, as well. The Bible often tells us miraculous healing that the Lord provides....He is able to provide both physical and spiritual healing, and He wants to do that for us.
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;    the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them—    they are counted among the blessed in the land—
    he does not give them over to the desire of their foes. The Lord sustains them on their sickbed    and restores them from their bed of illness. (Psalm 41:1-3)
Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;    save me and I will be saved,    for you are the one I praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)
When we are overwhelmed with health issues, bad news at work, or financial struggles, the Word can be our source of help. God promises to comfort and guide us as we focus on Him.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to "spring clean" our lives

Last week, we talked about Jesus cleansing the temple. The temple in Jerusalem had gradually become a noisy marketplace. It was probably difficult to have reverent and meaningful worship there, with the competing sounds of animals, the money changers, and more.

We also talked about sometimes there being a need for spring cleaning in our lives. Our bodies are the temple of the Spirit now; this is where He lives.

It's a fact of life that all "systems" if you want to call them that, get cluttered up over time with debris. They get clogged and congested and they can't operate at top effectiveness any more.
Have we heard from our doctors (or from television commercials) that plaque tends to build up in our veins and arteries? This gradually restricts the flow of blood. It's imperceptible at first, but over time it may become a dangerous problem.
Perhaps we aren't sailors, but I bet we've all heard of barnacles, right? These critters build up on the hulls of sea-going vessels, from the trawlers bringing in shrimp and fish to the aircraft carriers that patrol the seas. Get enough barnacles on there and the ship is slowed down dramatically.  I read somewhere that in just one year, a tanker ship can accumulate four or five TONS of barnacles!
Ever seen the barges that dredge rivers or the channels in a harbor? Mud and silt and shells can build up in the "lanes" that the commercial and pleasure vessels use, and it can make them impossible to navigate.
I think we see the point: whether we are talking about veins or ships or rivers, they can all get filled with rubbish and need to be cleaned out. It is not usually a pleasant process, either. Dirty, smelly, even painful if done manually.....

The same thing applies to marriage and family relationships, no? They can become clogged with unrealized expectations, resentment, and unforgiven offenses. Many a family has been torn apart because of unresolved conflicts or un-offered apologies.

But this week, we are focused on our spiritual lives. Over time, if we aren't careful, our lives can get cluttered and clogged with the debris of sin. If we want to carry our analogy one step further, our minds and hearts can get encrusted with the barnacles of ungodly attitudes and beliefs from the folks in this world that we "rub shoulders" with each day. All of this hinders our relationship with God, and our fellowship with other believers.
It also reduces our joy and peace, and decreases the power "on tap" in our Christian lives.
Maybe we need to do a deep dive into how to avoid this.... and how to clean up if it has already happened. (Grin)

First of all, we don't need to be down on ourselves because it's a problem that we all have from time to time. It's common to all of us. We are none of us immune -- we can't afford to go blithely about our days, unconcerned with the matters of holiness, or how sin is beginning to pile up.
Even the scriptures point to this; if it were not a common problem, I don't think so many of the writers would have addressed it!
Above all else, guard your heart,    for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;    keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;    do not let me eat their delicacies. (Psalm 141:3-4)
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (I Corinthians 10:12)
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, (Ephesians 5:15)
The scriptures are full of appeals to be watchful, and guard our hearts. Otherwise, over time, the world will begin to conform us to its way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We must be careful that ungodly habits don't creep in..... because it's kinda frightening how it can happen without our noticing!
When a believer falls away from walking with Jesus Christ, it's not usually like a hang-glider jumping off a cliff. (Grin) It's a gradual process. We may have been there..... what used to be a blessing is now seeming like more of a burden. The time we spend in prayer and Bible study begins to be cut shorter each day. We may no longer care so much about spending time with our Christian friends.
And worst of all, as the world gets closer to us, our tolerance for impurity within our own hearts gradually increases.
Even if there is a mega-failure, an epic situation that is perhaps public in our lives, there's usually been a period of time during which we have continued to make small compromises with sin. The decline is subtle, and often barely noticeable to others, and to ourselves as well.
To top it all off, many of us are able to keep up the outward appearance of religion, even while our relationship with Christ is weakening every day.

I'd like to suggest that each of us truly examine our hearts and pray. Let's find the barnacles and the sludge, so to speak.
Next time we will begin to look at ways to get rid of the debris that we find....

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday slowdown

Today's song is a prayerful one..... it seemed just right after our week of study. Bless you all!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spring cleaning, part III

When we paused yesterday, we had just arrived at an important concept: the temple of God today is found in the hearts and minds of all of us who honor Jesus as Lord and Savior. This was radical and startling to those who'd grown up in the temple traditions..... every year, they went to the temple to sacrifice. They knew the rituals. They knew that only once a year did the high priest actually enter the holy of holies -- and that was so awe-inspiring and so dangerous, that he had a rope tied to his foot and a bell on his robe, too! You may recall that we talked about how the sound of the bell would tell listeners outside that he was still moving inside, doing the duties he needed to accomplish. If they didn't hear the bell for a while, they would assume that somehow he had died -- perhaps he had inadvertently touched the ark of the covenant, and they'd need to pull him out of there.

Consider how shocking it would be to hear that the temple of God was within people! But that is what Paul told the Corinthians:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Perhaps we are so far removed from those olden days that we take for granted the idea that He lives within us....
Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (II Timothy 1:14)
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (Ephesians 3:17-18)
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
I feel like saying "AMEN!" after reading about you? (Grin)  Paul says that it truly IS a mystery, this concept of "Christ in us." But what a joy, and what a blessing it is!

We are the temple of our God in the world today...... and that's where the cleansing of the temple kinda hits home -- have we thought very much about the ways that we have become a little bit sloppy in our spiritual habits?  Have we softened up a bit in our resistance to evil thoughts? Have we allowed some destructive behaviors to creep in?  Or, how about this? Have we begun to accommodate the secular and selfish ways of the world that is around us?

OUCH! I know at least one of those hit home for me..... did the Spirit tromp on your toes, too?

We are all human, and as humans, we are prone to what the old folks called "backsliding" once in a while. It's not like we go off the deep end, right? We just let little things slip into our daily lives. And like weeds in our gardens, they begin to spread and to grow. They begin to crowd out our commitment to Christ and His kingdom. Our relationship with Jesus begins to get pushed back, away from being "top priority."

It's a subtle process. Like when the temple in Jerusalem gradually turned into a marketplace. Or like our own homes..... a little dust, a little dirt, we begin to see it building up on the baseboards and in the corners, but we don't notice it much. Dust bunnies under the beds, cobwebs along the ceiling, it happens slowly. Then, all of a sudden, we look around and realize (like grandma did) that it's time for spring cleaning!

I hope we will each do this, this week. Let's have a time of introspection; look within ourselves and see the ways that we have strayed from our "first love," and gotten away from the righteousness of God. Let's ask the Spirit to help us be worthy places for Him to dwell.